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Common drugs and their effects

Drugs are grouped into three basic categories: depressants, stimulants and hallucinogens. This table will help you see how each drug can affect parents and pose risks to children.

Depressants Stimulants Hallucinogens


  • slows down the nervous system
  • in small doses, they make people feel more relaxed
  • large doses can cause sedation, unconsciousness and death
  • affect concentration and coordination and lower response times


  • speed up the nervous system
  • increase heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • increase alertness and confidence
  • reduce tiredness and hunger
  • larger doses can cause anxiety or panic


  • change perception
  • can affect all the senses; users may see or hear things that aren't there
  • some depressants and stimulants (such as cannabis and ecstasy) can have hallucinogenic effects

Common depressants:


Benzodiazepines* (Valium, Xanax and Ativan)




GHB (fantasy)





Medicinal cannabis*



Common stimulants:

Amphetamines (speed, base)




Methamphetamine (ice, glass, shard, crystal meth and crystal)



Common hallucinogens:


LSD (acid)

Magic mushrooms

Mescaline (peyote cactus)

*Legal drugs with dependence and misuse potential.

Synthetic drugs

Synthetic drugs are substances designed to mimic or produce similar effects to common illegal drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and cannabis. Other commonly used names for synthetic drugs are ‘herbal highs’ and ‘bath salts’.

Psychological effects can include hallucinations, anxiety, acute psychosis and paranoia. The physical effects can be nausea and vomiting, headaches, seizures, overdoses and death.

People who use synthetic drugs are at risk of serious harm because new versions of these drugs are rarely (or never) tested. Serious harm can occur because of not knowing:

  • where they came from
  • what chemicals and other compounds are in them even when the packaging appears the same
  • what reaction might happen – as they can’t assume there won’t be a different reaction this time and that it is safe
  • how they might react to other substances they’ve also taken including alcohol or other drugs
  • if the experience will be the same (that is, whether the drug will be the same strength or same drug as last time).

Anabolic steroids

Anabolic steroids are drugs with misuse potential, but do not fall into any of the previously stated categories. Other common names for them are roids, gear, and juice.

Prescription drugs and medication

There are three classes of prescription drugs often associated with dependence. They are:

  • opioids used to treat pain
  • central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium and Ativan), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
  • stimulants, such as amphetamines and Adderall, Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin and Ritalin, used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder)

Further reading

The Alcohol and Drug Foundation’s Drug Facts website contain an A to Z list detailing the effects of particular drugs. It includes short- and long-term effects, and the symptoms of withdrawal and overdose.

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